Robotics and AI for COVID Resilience

The COVID-19 Pandemic has revealed how brittle and poorly prepared the global community was for pandemic. This continues to be a harsh lesson, and it could have been much worse. The task ahead is to respond to and overcome the current COVID-19 pandemic, and then build a more robust and resilient public health system to be better prepared for the next crisis. While there are many political, economic, and social elements to building a stronger public health system, technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics can amplify our resilience considerably.

This talk covers some of the current uses of AI in addressing COVID-19, focusing on large scale collaborations such as the XPRIZE Pandemic Alliance, the Kaggle COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge, and many team efforts to develop drugs and vaccines. The value of AI and machine learning in epidemiology and drug discovery has been well established, but robotics is just recently emerging as an essential element in fighting pandemic diseases. Specifically, robots can substitute for humans in disinfecting highly contaminated environments. They can deliver food and drugs in hospitals, sparing front line health staff from unnecessary exposure. Robots can be operated remotely by humans, permitting some screening and telemedicine capabilities. The current pandemic is driving innovation and experimentation in the use of robots in clinical care from venipuncture to specialized classes of augmented surgery performed by humans. Robots can provide security and comfort to the elderly sheltering in place. Automated robotic vehicles, some designed for sidewalk delivery, are being used in community and university pilot projects to deliver food, pharmaceuticals, small hardware, and electronics. Drones are being used in Africa to deliver blood and drugs where the road system is weak.

Robotics and AI are not silver bullets for winning the fight against pandemic disease. However, these exponential technologies are helping humans to even the score, and to build a more robust and resilient public health system.


Neil Jacobstein chairs the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University. As a mediaX Distinguished Visiting Scholar, his research focuses on augmented decision systems. He has served as an AI technical consultant to leading business, government, and defense organizations. He is a Founding Editorial Board member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Science Robotics journal. Jacobstein was appointed by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to the Earth and Life Studies Committee for the period 2015-2021. He is serving in a variety of advisory roles for industry, startup, nonprofit, and government organizations.

Read Neil’s Blog “Robotics for Human Resilience”